New masters to boost machine intelligence talent pool

A new African masters in machine intelligence funded by Google and Facebook seeks to create a community of machine intelligence (MI) practitioners in Africa to reduce the technology gap, build Africa’s economies and ultimately promote better governance.

The masters, to be launched in Rwanda next month by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), will provide a strong global foundation in MI and create diversity.

“The talent pool currently advancing MI is modest and unrepresentative of the diversity of our world, leaving us less capable of facing global challenges,” said Moustapha Cissé, professor of machine learning at AIMS and the founder and director of the masters programme.

He noted that the vast majority of active MI researchers and practitioners are in North America, Europe and Asia, while large regions, including Africa, are hardly represented.

“Conversely, creating an effective, globally-connected community of MI practitioners in Africa will reduce the technology gap, strengthen Africa’s economies and enable better governance,” said Cissé.

Google has undertaken to contribute resources while Facebook said it will provide US$4 million in funding and staff lecturers over several years.

“I’m excited to have Google and Facebook come together to help fund this new masters programme at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences,” said Jeff Dean, the head of Google artificial intelligence, on Twitter.

The Africa masters in machine intelligence will be a one-year intensive course with a special focus on challenges and insights relevant to the continent, said Nathalie Munyampenda, managing director of the Next Einstein Forum and director of communications and public engagement for the AIMS network.

She said although the course will be tailored for Africa it will be of the same calibre as any other such masters from an American or European university.

“As in most areas of research, we choose to work on research topics based on our background and this is the dimension that the African masters in machine intelligence at AIMS will provide, and what a degree in North America or Europe would not provide,” Munyampenda told University World News.

Cissé said there are many opportunities for MI to accelerate Africa's transformation by enhancing medical diagnosis, speeding up industrial processes and enabling scientific discoveries.

"MI will allow us to gather and usefully analyse vast datasets and extract insights to improve decision making and public policy in diverse areas from education and health to transport, agriculture and finance,” he said.

The flagship course will initially enrol 25 to 30 students at the AIMS-Rwanda campus but will be rolled out to other African countries later. The first masters cohort is expected to continue on to PhD study or to join the best industrial and public R&D labs in Africa and beyond.

The students will be pioneers of an ecosystem of African MI scientists bringing a fresh perspective to the global scientific community and achieving crucial breakthroughs, said Cissé, who added that in the long term the graduates will contribute to their home countries and continent by delivering technological solutions which will boost industry, employment and economic growth.

Lecturers will come from Google, Facebook and many global MI research programmes in universities, but officials at AIMS said the masters programme will follow the AIMS masters model.

Lecturers will not be permanent and will include international, regional and local lecturers who teach two-week modules, live on campus and interact with students in a 24-hour learning environment.

“The programme has amazing lecturers. Students will learn from the top global experts in MI,” said Munyampenda.